Bobby was really fed up. I mean, he loved Lizzie desperately, with a passion that he had not known he was capable of feeling. Surely he constantly made that obvious in a million ways? Her health was so fragile that he worried incessantly about her, to the extent that he often picked her up and carried her if one of their sight seeing trips required her to mount a steep flight of stairs. He managed all the practical things in their life, from the hiring and firing of their meagre staff, to counting the pennies. And they needed a bit of careful counting, those pennies, because he certainly was not going to be subsidised by her money. He was horribly aware that there were some people out there saying that he had only married her for her celebrity and all that came with it.
Such nonsense, as was this current, totally over the top reaction from Lizzie herself. Just because she had found a letter lurking at the back of his desk, seeming to say that there was something missing from his life, she was moping and crying as if he’d betrayed her. Useless to insist that he wrote it before they were married – when she was a continent away from him, for heavens sake. Her only reply was to ask, through muffled sobs, why he had kept it.
And why had he kept it? Well, he was a writer, wasn’t he? He’d actually meant to send it to her, a sort of love letter, really, though she wasn’t having any of that. Then everything went mad and he had just forgotten all about it. Her family was unbelievable. Claustrophobic in the extreme and ruled over by her tyrannical father who would have been thought over the top by Genghis Khan. She was stuck there, fragile because of a riding accident years before. The crunch came when, coming back to England, during one of his clandestine visits to her, she told him that her doctor had said she needed sunshine.
His beloved Italy had sunshine aplenty, he told her. And it was nearly spring now, a wonderful time for a convalescent. Convalescent! The very word suggested recovery, which no-one had thought was possible before.
“Marry me,” he pleaded. “Marry me, and I will whisk you away to a warmer climate and I promise that I will make sure that the sun always shines on our union.”
Lizzie’s face crumpled in dismay. “Oh, Bobby, I think you have guessed that I have loved you for a long time, but how could we manage that, my dearest?” she asked. “My father would not hear of it.”
“Lizzie, sweetheart, you are old enough to make your own decision. Say ‘yes’ and we will find a way. I would move heaven and earth for you.”
Lizzie thought for a long moment. She was indeed old enough not to need her father’s permission. In fact, she was several years older than Bobby. “Will I be able to continue with my career abroad?”
“Of course – the world would never forgive me if I was to rob it of your talent.”
Reassured, Lizzie abandoned her sick bed and her home the very next week and married Bobby in a secret ceremony. She had survived the journey to Italy well, and was now not only ensconced in a light and airy apartment but had become an avid sightseer. Indeed, it was while searching for one of Bobby’s maps that she came across the letter.
She read it with an increasing sense of foreboding. If he missed his former life so much, how could she not feel guilty about making him live on the other side of Europe? She could see no hope of returning to England, the sunshine had indeed brought about the promised recovery in her health. She sat reading, once more, this dreadful betrayal of their life together.
Bobby strode into the room and snatched the paper from her hands. “Lizzie, I shall rip this up and then you will know how little it meant to me.”
She looked up: “Burn it! Remove it! Destroy it!”
He left the room with her terrible cries ringing in his ears. He went to follow her instructions, but something stopped him. With a deep sigh he slipped the letter, which she should have received all those years ago, into a pile of manuscripts that he was working on.
Some years later, reading a book of poems to a group of friends, Lizzie asked her husband for permission to read one of his; “Because I persuaded him to send it to his publisher,” she laughed.
Memory can play some strange tricks, thought Bobby, smiling gently at her as she began to read:
‘Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
SPG May 2009.